The influence of climate on the tectonic evolution of mountain belts

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Simple physical arguments, analogue experiments and numerical experiments all suggest that the internal dynamics of actively deforming collisional mountain ranges are influenced by climate. However, obtaining definitive field evidence of a significant impact of climate on mountain building has proved challenging. Spatial correlations between intense precipitation or glaciation and zones of rapid rock-uplift have indeed been documented in numerous mountain ranges, and are consistent with model predictions. More compelling evidence - such as tectonic changes in response to (rather than just coincident with) climate change - has, however, rarely been documented. Triggered by a climate-driven increase in erosion rate, friction-dominated mountain ranges are expected to show a number of simultaneous responses: a decrease in the width of the range, a temporary increase in sediment yield, a persistent increase in the rate of rock uplift and a reduction in the subsidence rate of surrounding basins. The most convincing field evidence for such a coordinated response of a mountain range to climate change comes from the European Alps and the St Elias range of Alaska.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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